Brian Moyo profiles Dr Welcome Sibanda Associate Professor at Heriot-Watt University in the United Arab Emirates
RELOCATING from motherland is rated as one of the most difficult decisions any man or woman can make, especially given the inevitable heartaches of leaving loved ones behind, and the difficulties associated with settling comfortably in foreign countries.
But with around 30.6 million Africans living in the diaspora – half of those having moved to other African countries – while 8.2 million live in Europe and 2 million in the Americas, one could be excused for thinking that Africans are immune to culture shock.
But perhaps the clue as to why so many are prepared to up sticks and move away, lies in the statistics compiled by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, which indicate that 30% of Africa’s highly skilled stock – educated and trained personnel whom Africa can ill afford to lose – are working in the diaspora.
Over the years, the brain drain phenomenon has been the subject of debate in a series of media reports and academic studies. The narrative constantly touches on skilled Africans moving abroad because they can earn more money and enjoy a higher standard of living.
However, Dr Welcome Sibanda, the Associate Professor and Lecturer of Finance at Heriot-Watt University in the United Arab Emirates, attributes the readiness of skilled Africans to leave home, to more factors.
He says corruption, bribery and lack of binding ethical standards across Africa, go a long way in obliging professional people to take their skills elsewhere.
Dr Sibanda believes that many African countries could benefit greatly by simply uplifting ethical standards and ensuring that authorities are accountable to the people they purport to serve.
“In order for Africa to reach its full potential, it should also cultivate a culture of fairness in all spheres of life, including opening up the political space, strengthening civic institutions and protecting human and property rights,” he says.
He is adamant too that African governments must take full responsibility for the consequences of their actions, especially with regard to the mismanagement of their economies.
“There is adequate and highly qualified expertise to take Africa to the next level, but the political environment is usually not enabling that to take place,” Dr Sibanda notes.”Most decision-makers owe their positions to their allegiance to the powers that be and this frustrates most highly qualified professionals. Policies are distorted and tend to poison the professional environment which is not conducive for a properly qualified staff.”
Zimbabwe, where Dr Sibanda hails from, is a case in point. Recent revelations that the number of civil servants in the country swelled from 235,000 in July 2013 to 550,000 currently, defy logic, especially given that the civil service wage bill now accounts for 21% of GDP and that 91% of government’s recurrent expenditure goes to salaries alone.
Clearly, it is difficult to criticise individuals who jump on the “brain drain” wagon which continuously rolls across Africa to pick up disgruntled technocrats.
Dr Welcome himself is not in a hurry to return to Zimbabwe.
He says: “Whilst, my philosophy is never say never, I do not see myself returning to Zimbabwe in the very near future, especially with the prevailing socio-economic-political malaise,” he says. “My long-term goal is to expand my consultancy in wealth management and economic research.”
His career up to date spans stints as Portfolio Manager, Financial Reporting Analyst, Credit Analyst and Lecturer of Finance.
After completing a Bachelors’ Degree in Finance in Zimbabwe, he worked for a local bank for year, as a Credit Analyst, before he was awarded a scholarship to study for an MBA (Banking and Finance) in the UK.
Upon completion of the MBA, Dr Sibanda was awarded another scholarship to read for a PhD in Finance in London. Halfway through the PhD, he got a job as an Investment Analyst with Barclays Wealth in London, where he stayed for 8-years.
“It was during the periodical training sessions at Barclays Wealth that I discovered that I could make a very good Lecturer, judging from the feedback from colleagues,” Dr Sibanda says.
“After the financial crisis, I moved to Dubai as an Assistant Professor of Finance with the Western International College (a London School of Economics Affiliate). This took me to the Far East (Hanoi, Vietnam), where I helped set up the British University in Vietnam (another London School of Economics Affiliate College). On completion of that project, I was offered my current job,” he adds.
What does he consider to be the biggest hurdle facing Africa in terms of achieving the Millennium development goals?
“Whilst half-backed policies, lack of commitment, ignorance and denial by those tasked with crafting and policy implementation has contributed to the failure of the MDGs, the goals themselves were too ambitious and unrealistic,” Dr Sibanda says.
On the other hand he says Africa has been dealt an unfair hand by being expected to achieve in a comparatively shorter space of time, what developed countries took almost a century to achieve.
“Setting impossible goals takes attention away from any legitimate progress made and unfairly creates a false impression of failure, which jeopardizes multilateral funding for future development initiatives,” Dr Sibanda explains.
Although he thinks an African economic bloc similar to the European Unionwould provide a much-needed platform for job creation and economic development, he advises caution on adopting such a strategy.
“For different countries to create a successful economic or political bloc, they must have a similar level of GNP per capita, compatible trading regimes and the political commitment for a successful bloc,” he explains. “If those conditions are not met, there may be serious challenges for the success of any political or economic bloc.”
Furthermore, he says the sense of “loss” of national sovereignty, may compromise the concept and lead to disputes, especially with regard to equitable distribution of the gains and costs of integration.
Dr Sibanda was born in Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe.
In years gone by the city was a thriving metropolis at the heart of the country’s manufacturing industries. Today, the industrial sites are forlorn. Hundreds of factories have closed down and thousands of bedraggled job seekers walk the streets looking for non-existent jobs.
Ironically, thousands of skilled Zimbabwean technocrats with the know-how and even the financial resources to help reboot the economy, are living permanently in the diaspora.
No doubt, the irony about professionals like Dr Sibanda holding high posts in foreign lands, while their countries are in desperate need of the skills they possess, is an issue that will be debated for a long time to come. But so too will debate about corrupt African leaders who turn their countries into fiefdoms of corruption and create strong reasons for skilled people to opt out.